The Black Dahlia by James Ellroy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Ah, the post-war years. America’s golden age when things were so much better than they are today. When no injustice ever occurred, and no one was unfairly treated. Every pay check was a fortune, every meal a banquet, and the worst crime was the odd rapscallion stealing a pie off a window sill. Or maybe sometimes the bisected body of a woman who had been brutally tortured would be left in an empty lot which would put a wildly corrupt police force in a frenzied media spotlight as they fruitlessly tried to solve the murder.
It really was a simpler time…
This was the book where James Ellroy stepped his game up from promising mystery writer to a creator of epic historical fiction by mixing a famous unsolved murder with seedy LA history via flawed fictional characters. Our narrator is Dwight ‘Bucky’ Bleichart, a former boxer turned LAPD officer just after World War II. Bucky agrees to fight another cop named Lee Blanchard as part of a departmental publicity stunt. The boxing match makes them partners, but it’s Lee’s girlfriend Kay who unites all three of them into a family. It’s a dead woman that eventually starts to tear them all to pieces.
In reality Elizabeth Short was just another young woman who came to LA with stars in her eyes, but her unsolved murder became one of those crimes that stuck in the public consciousness. Ellroy has talked and written a great deal about how he poured a lot of his own unresolved feelings about his own mother’s unsolved murder into the Dahlia case, and if there’s one thing you’re sure of by the time you’re done reading it’s that he knows what it’s like to be obsessed and haunted by dead women.
Ellroy is also fascinated by the shady history of LA and its police department, and he uses that knowledge to craft a fantastically violent and corrupt world where the cops are often worse than the criminals they’re arresting. Almost everyone involved the investigation has their own agendas, and the methods used to get what they want are brutal. Nobody gets out clean when it comes to the Dahlia, least of all those who give the most while trying to learn who killed her.
This is a great crime story with a hard boiled edge that was one of the books that made me a huge fan of James Ellroy.
View all my reviews